Marketing: it’s a mysterious and somewhat vague term. Many new business people aren’t quite sure what it actually means. Does it refer to advertising? To building web traffic? To branding? The answer is that it’s none of those things, but also all of them. It encapsulates your entire business’s approach to gaining customers. If your marketing strategy is too narrowly focused on any one aspect, it misses the point. Likewise, any one thing you do that isn’t done with marketing in mind can take your business off track. That’s why it’s important to develop a comprehensive strategy.

Marketing is the way you bring people to your business, but that’s only leading the proverbial horse to water. To make them drink requires more than simply “getting your name out there.” It requires building intrigue in your business in a way that earns you the opportunity to sell. It’s making people aware of your business, but also making them want to learn more. It’s not simply promotion. It’s the first step in a relationship.

I’ve learned that good marketing comes down to a certain mindset. This mindset involves defining the role of your business in a customer’s life, rather than just “chasing” customers and trying to sell them something. It may sound a bit sentimental, but a business that focuses on relationship-building as a marketing strategy creates customers that are loyal, proud, and ultimately your best advertising.

In taking this approach, I use three simple strategies:

1. Solve someone’s problem. This is basically step one for any business that hopes to succeed, yet so many budding entrepreneurs miss it. The first key to building a business that will attract interest is to position your product as the solution to a problem or an alleviator of pain. Yoga instructors alleviate the pain and weakness of an unfit body and an unsound mind. Car dealers alleviate the pain of commuting or the pain of social inadequacy. The $100 MBA alleviates the pain of an entrepreneurial spirit being held back by a lack of formal business education. Whatever you sell, it needs to be an answer, not just a product. By addressing a genuine problem in a customer’s life, your product becomes more valuable than its retail price.

2. Go for depth, not width. I used to be a teacher, and later an administrator. In education, there’s a real problem with curriculum that’s “a mile wide and an inch deep.” It’s when teachers are forced to cover so much content, and there’s so much information to be memorized, that students only understand it at a superficial level. Being able to name and date every battle of the Civil War is great, but a far more useful skill is to be able to discuss why it happened and what its effects were.

Marketing has a similar problem, with businesses trying to reach out to so many customers, but only on a superficial level. By blasting simple ads onto social media, or in newspapers, or on highway billboards, businesses aren’t connecting with anyone, they’re simply “getting their name out there.” That can only take you so far.

A better approach is to build deeper relationships with less people. Yes, less people. Casting a net full of holes won’t get you much fish, no matter how wide it is. But if you offer your time, some valuable content, and a genuine connection to a smaller group of people, you’re more likely to turn them into regular customers.

By the numbers, “deep marketing” to as little as 500 people, when done right, is worth more than an ad seen by 5,000 people. This is where content marketing comes in; even if you’re selling a physical product, it’s imperative to create informational and instructional content. Blogs, videos and webinars are offered free of charge, and your reputation grows. By producing and giving away content to a targeted audience, you forge a connection. You gain credibility and trust, and that ultimately turns into sales.

3. ABM (Always Be Marketing). Effective marketing isn’t something you do once and consider accomplished. It’s something you’re doing all the time, and is reflected in every aspect of your business. It’s the key to continued growth. By integrating marketing into all of your business practices, you’re ensuring a future for your company by building on the reputation that draws new customers in.

Again, this is why I’m such a strong advocate of offering valuable content. This blog is something that people find informative, helpful, and ultimately valuable (or so I’d like to think). It’s free content, as are the videos, guides, infographics and e-books we offer to anyone who’s interested. A given consumer may read the blog and not buy anything, but we’ve earned his or her trust. Maybe they buy something down the road. Maybe they refer others who are ready for our full services. Whatever happens, the content drives our marketing by building a more loyal following than any advertisement can. We know that when you offer value, you create intrigue, not just awareness.

That’s why I like to think of marketing as the art of building lots of little relationships, as frequently as possible. This is what distinguishes it from mere advertising. While advertising has its role, reality isn’t Mad Men; people aren’t truly moved to action until they feel a connection.

Good marketing takes practice. It’s a cumulative skill, one that’s developed over the length of an entrepreneurial career. As your business evolves, your ability to market becomes more and more sophisticated. There’s no final, perfect strategy. There’s no formula. There’s just being yourself, and getting better at it every day.